The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Daily 202: Biden won with the weakest coattails in 60 years. That could make him dependent on GOP senators.

with Mariana Alfaro

WILMINGTON, Del. – President-elect Joe Biden said Tuesday that he hopes to name a couple of Cabinet secretaries before Thanksgiving, but first he wants to talk with Mitch McConnell to gauge whom Republicans would help confirm. Around the same time, the Senate majority leader suggested he may not even acknowledge Biden’s victory for several more weeks.

“I haven’t had a chance to speak to Mitch,” Biden told reporters at the Queen theater here. “My expectation is that I will do that in the not-too-distant future. I think that the whole Republican Party has been put in a position, with a few notable exceptions, of being mildly intimidated by the sitting president.”

Biden, 77, has worked with McConnell, 78, since the Kentucky Republican was elected in 1984. The president-elect said he expects the majority leader to share which potential nominees Republicans could support and whom they would try to block. “That's a negotiation that I'm sure we'll have,” Biden said. “We'll just work this out. … I am not a pessimist.”

But the GOP leadership’s refusal to congratulate Biden and willingness to indulge what many privately admit are President Trump’s baseless fantasies of widespread fraud foreshadow how constrained Biden is likely to find himself next year.

McConnell, unanimously reelected by Senate Republicans as their leader on Tuesday, said at his own news conference that legal challenges by Trump are “no reason for alarm” and won’t prevent a new administration, “if there is one,” from taking office. “Until the electoral college votes, anyone who’s running for office can exhaust concerns about counting in any court of appropriate jurisdiction,” he said. “At some point here, we’ll find out, finally, who was certified in each of these states, and the electoral college will determine the winner, and that person will be sworn in on January 20th.”

Assuming Republicans maintain control of the Senate by winning one or both of the runoffs in Georgia on Jan. 5, which many strategists in both parties expect them to pull off, Biden would be the first president since George H.W. Bush in 1989 to take office without controlling both chambers of Congress. In fact, Biden would be the first Democratic president since Grover Cleveland in 1885 to take office with his party not in control of both chambers.

Biden received more votes – 77.3 million – than any other candidate for public office in American history. With the highest levels of turnout since 1900, he beat Trump by more than 5 million votes nationwide, and that number is expected to grow as California continues to count its ballots. Biden has garnered a higher percentage of the popular vote – 50.8 percent – than any challenger to an incumbent since Franklin Roosevelt defeated President Herbert Hoover in 1932, narrowly edging out Ronald Reagan’s share of the vote in 1980 when he beat Jimmy Carter.

But Biden also appears to have won the presidency with the weakest House coattails of any president since John F. Kennedy in 1960. Republican strategist Bruce Mehlman illustrated this dynamic with these two charts in a 48-slide PowerPoint deck that he shared Tuesday with clients of his lobbying firm:

A full week after Election Day, the Associated Press finally projected Tuesday that Democrats will retain enough seats to hold the House but counting still continues in several districts, so we cannot say definitively yet just how many seats they lost. But Democrats had expected to gain several. They won two open seats but knocked off no incumbent Republicans. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) is stepping aside as Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman amid intense finger-pointing between moderates and liberals about who is to blame.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will preside over the narrowest House majority of any leader in either party in 18 years. This gives her less leverage and makes it harder to pass big bills. Many Republican operatives will be single-mindedly fixated for the next two years on taking control of the House. If history is any guide, it is very winnable.

Democrats also lost the Montana governorship and underperformed in vital state legislative races that will determine reapportionment, something that will haunt them for the next decade.

While the reasons will continue to be debated, and the exit polls dissected, the undeniable reality is that Biden did not carry down-ballot Democrats with him across the finish line, and this will significantly constrain what he can accomplish and whom he can appoint.

Biden’s narrow coattails will prevent Republicans writ large from making the kind of clean break with Trump or repudiating Trumpism in ways that some of them had expected to do after the election. Republicans beat the odds by only losing one net Senate seat: They picked up a seat in Alabama and lost seats in Colorado and Arizona. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) won her reelection race by nine points, even as Biden simultaneously carried the state by nine points. Edison Research projected on Wednesday morning Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) will hold onto his seat.

McConnell and the other members of his leadership team insisted on Tuesday after that, even if Biden winds up replacing Trump, Democrats do not have a mandate. “I think the election made it very clear that people across this country reject the agenda that was put forward by the Democrats,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 in GOP leadership. 

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the No. 4 in GOP leadership, backed away from his comments on the Sunday shows that Trump’s legal challenges were unlikely to change the results. “Virtually every predictor of what was going to happen in the elections was wrong,” Blunt said at Tuesday’s news conference. “You know, the president wasn’t defeated by huge numbers. In fact, he may not have been defeated at all.” 

Meanwhile, a Republican senator who recently announced plans to retire in 2022 became one of the handful of lawmakers in his party to call on Trump to start cooperating with Biden’s transition team. “It looks likely Joe Biden is going to be the next president of the United States. It's not 100 percent certain, but it is quite likely. So I think a transition process ought to begin," Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) told Pittsburgh's Action News 4 on Tuesday night.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Biden’s best friend in the Senate and a potential Cabinet pick, said many Republican senators have privately reached out. “They call me to say, you know, ‘Congratulations, please convey my well wishes to the president-elect, but I can’t say that publicly yet,’” Coons said Tuesday on CNN, declining to offer any names.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Nov. 10 that President Trump is free to "exhaust concerns" about the election. (Video: The Washington Post)

For now, everyone in the Senate has Georgia on their mind. Republicans in Washington and Georgia are echoing Trump’s unfounded claims partly because they worry about dispiriting the president’s core supporters, sources tell Robert Costa, Paul Kane and Erica Werner. “Those remarks came as the two GOP incumbents facing runoff campaigns, Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, stood by their call for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to resign, after alleging mismanagement and a lack of transparency without providing any evidence. Raffensperger, a Republican, said that he will stay in office and that the process of reporting results had been orderly and legal.”

The conventional wisdom in both parties is that Republicans are more likely than not to win at least one of the Georgia races. Last week showed how hard it is to beat incumbents. Runoffs and special elections tend to become more nationalized contests, which in this case is bad for Democrats. Georgia is changing fast, but the state remains more red than purple. The argument that a conservative senator could be a check and balance on the left will seemingly resonate with a certain set of voters in the Peach State who might have voted for Biden in the general election. Neither side will have difficulty raising money.

Ballots will start to be mailed for the runoffs on Nov. 18. Early voting will begin on Dec. 14. Vice President Pence told Senate Republicans at their weekly lunch that he will campaign in Georgia for Perdue and Loeffler on Nov. 20. Asked if he plans to campaign in Georgia, Biden said: “We're going to do anything we can – that they think we can do to help.” 

In North Carolina, Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham also conceded on Tuesday to Sen. Thom Tillis (R). “The voters have spoken, and I respect their decision,” Cunningham said in a statement, which noted that he had just called Tillis to congratulate him.

In the GOP, however, Trump’s obstinacy appears to be contagious, and down-ballot members of his party are following suit. Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) has not conceded, even though the race has been called for Democratic challenger Mark Kelly. Neither has John James, the Republican challenger to Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), even though Peters leads by about 1.5 percent, or 87,000 votes. 

But there are more dramatic examples of this Trump effect: “In Maryland, House candidate Kimberly Klacik (R) declared Sunday her campaign would ‘investigate’ the results of her race against Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), in which the incumbent trounced her by more than 40 points,” Teo Armus reports.

Republican Errol Webber lost to Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) in a deep-blue swath of Los Angeles by more than 72 points. But the 33-year-old movie producer is nonetheless promising to audit the vote counting procedures. “I will NOT concede,” he tweeted Monday. “Every LEGAL vote needs to be counted!”

Seven of the last eight cycles have now been what political scientists call “change elections,” in which one party flips control of the House, Senate or White House. From 2006 to 2020, the only cycle that didn’t see the White House or Congress flip was 2012. Going back to the 19th century, this sustained stretch of political volatility is very historically unusual.

Democratic strategist Doug Sosnik, who was White House political director for President Bill Clinton, said “America entered this election as a divided country and remains so.” He predicts that “the same level of partisan infighting, turmoil and volatility that have dominated the past two decades will likely continue into the foreseeable future.”

“With the polls predicting a Biden victory and a blue wave on Election Day, a significant group of voters shifted to the GOP in Congressional races in the closing days of the campaign,” Sosnik said. “Trump's narrative of a Democratic Washington that would undermine law and order, defund the police and pursue a socialist economic agenda may not have gotten him reelected, but it did help Republicans in congressional races across the country.”

Sosnik said in a memo for clients of the Brunswick Group over the weekend that “Trump’s victory in 2016 was not a one-off event, but rather a deeply embedded reality” of American politics. “This was not the same coalition that propelled Obama to victory in 2008 and 2012,” he wrote. “Of the 206 counties that shifted from Obama to Trump in 2016, Biden only won back 19 (pending final results). Even though Biden carried Wisconsin, he lost 21 out of the 23 counties in the state that switched from Obama to Trump in 2016. Trump’s narrow defeat supports the conclusion that his 2016 victory was not a fluke but rather a reflection of where we are as a country at this time.”

Sosnik warns Democrats that Trump’s most ardent supporters represent a potent political movement based on a working-class revolt against the elites in the country. “Their movement will continue long after the election with Trump at its leader,” he said. “Trump leaves the presidency with an online army of followers – 88 million on Twitter, 23 million on Instagram and 31 million on Facebook. It’s likely that he will continue to engage his supporters online as much as he did throughout his presidency.”

During his first news conference since declaring victory, Biden dodged when asked how the Democratic losses in the House will impact his priorities, especially if the Senate remains in GOP hands. He said that the economy and public health situation are both deteriorating, with small businesses going under, people getting evicted from their homes and unemployment benefits running out. He expressed hope that Trump will sign a major stimulus package before leaving office so Americans don’t need to wait for relief. He added that he has been talking to Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Then he endorsed their approach.

Biden said the failure to pass a coronavirus relief bill that includes money for states and local governments will soon begin to take a more visible toll, which he predicted will get Republicans on board. “You're going to see police officers, firefighters and first responders laid off, and I think the pressure is going to build,” said Biden.

The final question at Biden’s presser was: How do you expect to work with Republicans if they won't even acknowledge you as president-elect? “They will,” Biden answered. “They will.”

The latest on the transition

Biden’s transition team released a list of 500 people who will form the backbone of his preparations to lead the federal government in January, with experts assigned to study every agency. “The Biden teams will not make formal contact with Trump appointees and the career staff now in government because the outgoing administration has not yet released transition resources and allowed access to agencies. However, transition officials stressed that they are working through informal channels to learn what’s going on in the government, talking with think tanks, labor and nonprofit groups and those who previously served at federal agencies,” Lisa Rein reports.

The president-elect tapped proponents of stricter Wall Street rules for his agency review teams. Many of these new advisers are veterans of the Obama administration or have played vocal roles in the past pushing for tougher oversight of Wall Street. They include Michael Barr, who was a senior Treasury Department official during the passage of the Dodd-Frank law in 2010, and Leandra English, whom Trump ousted from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau during a messy power struggle. (Rachel Siegel and Yeganeh Torbati)

The first-ever Second Gentleman, Douglas Emhoff, said he will “sever all ties” with his law firm, DLA Piper, before the inauguration. (CBS News)

Leaders around the world continued to call Biden on Tuesday to congratulate the incoming American president. He spoke with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin,” Matt Viser and Michael Scherer report. “Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who developed a close relationship with Trump, also released a statement congratulating Biden. The calls were not coordinated with the U.S. State Department, as is the typical practice, because a Trump appointee is refusing to issue an acknowledgment that Biden won, which allows the transition to formally begin.”

Trump advisers privately acknowledge Biden’s victory is less a question of “if” than “when.”

“Six states where Trump has threatened to challenge his defeat continued their march toward declaring certified election results in the coming weeks,” Amy Gardner, Tom Hamburger, Jon Swaine and Josh Dawsey report. “Trump began the day tweeting about ‘BALLOT COUNTING ABUSE’ as he and his allies touted unproven claims that fraud had tainted the election in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Vice President Pence gave a presentation to Republican senators on Capitol Hill about new litigation expected in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia — imploring them to stick with the president. … But even some of the president’s most publicly pugilistic aides, including White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and informal adviser Corey Lewandowski, have said privately that they are concerned about the lawsuits’ chances for success unless more evidence surfaces. … 

Trump met with advisers again Tuesday afternoon to discuss whether there is a path forward, said a person with knowledge of the discussions … The person said Trump plans to keep fighting but understands it is going to be difficult. ‘He is all over the place. It changes from hour to hour,’ the person said."

For now, though, the White House is demanding federal agencies proceed with plans to prepare a budget that Trump would release in February. This has "rankled and surprised several career staffers,” Jeff Stein, Erica Werner and Dawsey report. “Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought is widely viewed by administration officials as hostile to a transition.”

Quote of the day

“There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

A Pennsylvania man recants his allegation of ballot tampering. 

“Richard Hopkins’s claim that a postmaster in Erie, Pa., instructed postal workers to backdate ballots mailed after Election Day was cited by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) in a letter to the Justice Department calling for a federal investigation. Attorney General William P. Barr subsequently authorized federal prosecutors to open probes into credible allegations of voting irregularities and fraud before results are certified, a reversal of long-standing Justice Department policy,” Shawn Boburg and Jacob Bogage report. “But on Monday, Hopkins, 32, told investigators from the U.S. Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General that the allegations were not true, and he signed an affidavit recanting his claims."

  • Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) is offering a $1 million reward for evidence of voter fraud. (Houston Chronicle)  
  • Trump is soliciting “election defense” donations, but most of the money is actually going to his new leadership PAC, which will allow him to maintain influence after he leaves office. (Michelle Ye Hee Lee)
  • First Lady Melania Trump hasn’t reached out to Jill Biden either. (CNN)
  • “Trump’s election loss and the week-long silence of ‘Q,’ the QAnon movement’s mysterious prophet, have wrenched some believers into a crisis of faith, with factions voicing unease about their future or rallying others to stay calm and ‘trust the plan,’” Drew Harwell and Craig Timberg report. “The uncertainty has been compounded by the abrupt public resignation, also last Tuesday, of Ron Watkins, the administrator of Q’s online sanctuary on the message board 8kun. … ‘Have we all been conned?’ one user wrote."
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) faces pressure to choose a Latino to replace Harris.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) and Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) are considered the leading candidates, Scott Wilson reportsLatinos make up almost 40 percent of California’s population, having overtaken Whites as the largest racial group in the 1990s. Ever since California was carved out of Mexico and added to the union more than 150 years ago, a Latino has never represented the Golden State in the Senate. “There are other Latinos who could fit the profile and even add another first, namely Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, who is also openly gay. At 42 years old, Garcia was given a speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention as a rising star in the party. Both of Garcia’s parents — his mother brought him to the United States from Peru at age 5 — have died this year of the coronavirus. But Garcia is untested in statewide campaigns,” Wilson notes. “Two prominent Black women — Reps. Karen Bass, from Los Angeles, and Barbara Lee, from Oakland — have emerged as strong candidates to replace Harris. Bass was on Biden’s running-mate shortlist, and both represent safe House seats for Democrats.”

Jaime Harrison, the South Carolina Democrat who shattered fundraising records and became a national star in his unsuccessful bid against Sen. Lindsey Graham (R), expressed interest in becoming the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Harrison has the support of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), who offered a pivotal endorsement of Biden before that state’s primary. (Sean Sullivan)

The Trump agenda

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the third case considering the legality of the Affordable Care Act on Nov. 10. (Video: The Washington Post)
The Supreme Court sounds ready to uphold the Affordable Care Act.

“Two key members of the court — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh — said plainly during two hours of teleconferenced arguments that Congress’s decision in 2017 to zero-out the penalty for not buying health insurance did not indicate a desire to kill the entire law,” Robert Barnes, Ann Marimow, Amy Goldstein and Paige Winfield Cunningham report. “With that, the latest effort to derail President Barack Obama’s landmark domestic achievement seemed likely to meet the fate of past endeavors. Trump and Republicans have never summoned the votes to repeal the measure — even when in control of Congress and the White House. And the court has been unwilling to do the work for them. Roberts, a conservative who nonetheless became the bane of many on the right when he wrote the 2012 Supreme Court decision upholding the act’s constitutionality, alluded to that in Tuesday’s arguments. … ‘I think, frankly, that they wanted the court to do that. But that’s not our job,’ he said."

Trump installs three more White House loyalists in top Pentagon jobs. 

The dramatic upheaval at the highest levels of the military continued a day after the president fired Mark Esper as Defense secretary. Kash Patel, a highly controversial former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), got a senior role. So did Anthony Tata, whose nomination to be undersecretary of defense for policy crumbled over the summer amid bipartisan Senate opposition. Tata will now perform the duties of the undersecretary for policy, following the resignation Tuesday of James Anderson, a former Marine intelligence officer. “Also ousted at the Pentagon is Joseph Kernan, a retired three-star admiral and Navy SEAL officer who had served as undersecretary of defense for intelligence. He will be replaced by Ezra Cohen-Watnick, 34, who most recently served as the acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict. He first joined the Trump administration as a National Security Council director under former national security adviser Michael Flynn,” Dan Lamothe, Missy Ryan, Dawsey and Paul Sonne report.

"The decisions swept decades of experience out of the Pentagon as the Trump administration seeks to eject people from government whom it does not view as sufficiently loyal to the president. The Defense Department, with its mandate to remain loyal to the U.S. Constitution and keep uniformed personnel at a distance from partisan politics, could see more departures in coming days. An administration official said late Tuesday that Trump remains determined to withdraw troops around the world before leaving office. ‘He sees the Pentagon as the leader of the resistance to his agenda,’ said the official. … Another administration official said the moves were requested by the White House and constituted a Pentagon takeover by Trump’s National Security Council staff. They coincide with ongoing debates about the pace of troop withdrawals from several countries, including Afghanistan and Somalia.

The changes come after months of tension between not only the president and Esper, but also national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien and Esper, two administration officials said. ‘POTUS never appreciated that the military wasn’t political, and still doesn’t,’ one senior White House official said. ‘Most of the fights Esper had with him were about the politicization of the military.’ … Trump has long chafed at military leaders who have resisted his entreaties to make available military weaponry, including tanks and jets, for Trump-orchestrated holiday displays. He also grew angry when Esper and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walked with him in Lafayette Square in June for a photo opportunity in front of a church and then expressed regret in the incident later, saying they should not have participated. Officials close to Esper and Milley said they were unaware that they were going to be used as they were that day, and Trump seethed for days.”

There is a furious behind-the-scenes battle to counter Trump's threat to national security. “Trump’s senior military and intelligence officials have been warning him strongly against declassifying information about Russia that his advisers say would compromise sensitive collection methods and anger key allies,” columnist David Ignatius reports. “An intense battle over this issue has raged within the administration in the days before and after the Nov. 3 presidential election. … CIA Director Gina Haspel last month argued strongly at a White House meeting against disclosing the information, because she believed that doing so would violate her pledge to protect sources and methods … A bipartisan group of Republican and Democratic senators has been trying to protect Haspel, though some fear that Trump may yet oust her. … A source familiar with her standing as CIA director said Tuesday that national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had both ‘assured her that she’s good,’ meaning she wouldn’t be removed. Haspel also met personally with [McConnell] Tuesday.”

Former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe reiterated during a Senate hearing the bureau had good reason to believe in early 2017 that Trump himself posed “a danger to national security,” forcefully defending the bureau’s investigation of Trump as Republicans sought to highlight mistakes he and others made. (Matt Zapotosky

The Afghan government hopes Biden will take a tougher stance than Trump on the Taliban. 

“The stalled peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban could see slight changes with the new U.S. administration, Afghan officials say,” Susannah George and Karen DeYoung report. “Such moves would mark only modest shifts from the Trump administration’s Afghanistan policy but could provide more leverage to Afghan government negotiators in Doha, Qatar, and move stalled peace talks forward. … Biden has said repeatedly that he plans to draw down U.S. troops to a relatively small number — ‘several thousand’ — to ensure that neither al-Qaeda nor the Islamic State is in a position to launch attacks on the United States from Afghanistan. That continued presence of a small number of U.S. counterterrorism troops — a provision not included in the public text of the U.S.-Taliban deal signed in February, which calls for a full withdrawal of U.S. forces — could hold the Taliban more accountable to the deal’s central condition.”

The coronavirus

Spiking case numbers point to a harrowing autumn.

“In multiple states, hospital leaders warned that the current spike is straining resources and sidelining the very staffers needed to face growing numbers of sick people. From Maryland to Iowa, local officials have pleaded for tighter restrictions that might help slow the virus’s accelerating spread,” Brady Dennis, Jacqueline Dupree and Marisa Iati report. “With little help and scant guidance from a Washington stuck in political limbo, some states and localities rushed to put in place new restrictions aimed at slowing the virus’s spread. Still, almost every metric appeared headed in an ominous direction. On Tuesday, the country hit another one-day record, logging more than 135,000 new coronavirus cases, along with 1,403 additional deaths. At least five states, including Missouri and Wisconsin, set single-day highs for fatalities. At least five more, including Illinois and Pennsylvania, set single-day highs for new cases. Almost nowhere in the country are caseloads actually subsiding. …

Nearly 62,000 infected Americans currently lie in hospital beds — a number the nation has not experienced since April. … ‘I’m not sure it disappoints me as much as it scares the hell out of me,’ said Michael T. Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. ‘This is like one huge coronavirus forest fire, and I don’t think it’s going to spare much human wood out there unless we change our behavior.’”

Trump officials promise a fair distribution of a newly approved antibody drug. 

“The Eli Lilly & Co. drug is similar to an experimental treatment Trump received when he was infected with the novel coronavirus. It is a laboratory-brewed antibody that imitates the immune system’s attack on the virus,” William Wan reports. “The federal government has more than 80,000 doses ready for allocation and distribution this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a briefing Tuesday. … The government has negotiated a contract to buy 300,000 doses through December, with an option to buy 650,000 more through June. … Because of the limited supply, the number of doses each state receives will be determined by the number of confirmed cases and hospitalizations in a given week, federal officials said. For example, this week, Vermont — with among the fewest cases — will receive only 20 doses. Meanwhile, South Dakota, where the virus is spreading uncontrollably, will get 820. Each week’s allocation will be made on a Wednesday.”

  • Anthony Fauci predicted the average American could have access to a coronavirus vaccine by the “end of April." (CNN)
  • Restaurants, gyms and coffee shops rank high among locations where the virus is most likely to spread, according to a new report based on data from millions of American cellphones. (Ben Guarino and Joel Achenbach)
  • Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) toughened restrictions as the D.C. region’s caseload broke more records. Effective at 5 p.m., Maryland restaurants must reduce indoor dining capacity from 75 to 50 percent. And a new advisory urges a 25-person cap on indoor gatherings. (Rebecca Tan, Erin Cox and Patricia Sullivan
  • D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser defended her decision to travel on Saturday to Delaware, a state with a significantly higher risk than the District, to celebrate Biden’s victory. Bowser said the trip “absolutely” qualified as “essential travel” — which is exempted from the mayor’s quarantine order — because she was conducting government business. (Julie Zauzmer and Michael Brice-Saddler)
  • Nebraska state Sen. Mike Groene (R), who embraces controversial theories of “herd immunity,” informed colleagues he tested positive – and was happy about it. “As you know, I finally got my wish,” he wrote in an email. Most public health officials consider this concept dangerous and unethical. (Lincoln Journal-Star)
  • One in five covid-19 patients is diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder within 90 days, a study from Oxford University found. Anxiety, depression and insomnia were most common among recovered patients. (Reuters)
China tries to trace the tiniest of risks.

Researchers in Beijing said they found and isolated live samples of the virus on the outer packaging of cod shipped into China, a country that otherwise had gotten rid of the virus domestically. “It was proof, according to China CDC researcher Wu Zunyou, that the virus could survive long trips in a deep freeze and still infect people,” Chris Mooney and Gerry Shih report. ”But in the weeks since, the Chinese findings have set off a flurry of heated discussion among international researchers about the likelihood of the coronavirus spreading across borders on cold-chain food products … In the United States … transmission from surfaces has been played down by experts, who have emphasized that this route is not thought to be a common way the virus spreads. But in China, where cases are increasingly rare and the government has adopted a no-tolerance policy for new infections, a growing emphasis has been placed on identifying less likely sources of infection. … Some [experts] say the Chinese data, which include genetic sequences of the virus from the packaging that matched viral strains in Europe, appear to be persuasive. Others dismiss the evidence as inconclusive.” 

  • Tourists are buying fake covid-19 test results on the black market so that they can travel. (Shannon McMahon)
  • Russia claimed, dubiously, that its Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine is 92 percent effective. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

The new world order

China forces the ouster of four pro-democracy lawmakers from Hong Kong’s legislature.

This triggered a walkout of opposition lawmakers and solidified Beijing's stranglehold on the city. “The move, announced by Hong Kong officials after Beijing issued a new directive to disqualify lawmakers it deemed unpatriotic, represented a decisive blow that virtually eliminates opposition in the legislature for the first time since Hong Kong's handover from Britain in 1997,” Shibani Mahtani and Theodora Yu report. “Beijing’s ruling, bypassing Hong Kong’s courts and political structures, underlined its efforts to sharply curb the financial center’s autonomy.” The intervention and its timing also signal to Biden that the ruling Communist Party has no intention of easing its brutal crackdown on freedom.

  • The little-known head of Peru's Congress took the helm of the South American nation amid a public outcry over the surprise removal of the country's popular president. “Critics called it a congressional coup staged by Machiavellian legislators desperate to halt his anti-corruption and political reform campaigns,” Simeon Tegel and Anthony Faiola report. "Under [Martín] Vizcarra, Peru adopted laws that took on festering malfeasance within the 130-member legislature, where 68 lawmakers are now under investigation or indictment for alleged crimes ranging from money laundering to murder.”
  • A Vatican report revealed that Pope John Paul II knew about and overlooked sexual misconduct claims against Theodore McCarrick, choosing instead to facilitate McCarrick’s rise in the U.S. two decades before he was defrocked. The report amounts to a stunning play-by-play of the kind of systemic failure that the Catholic Church normally keeps under wraps, describing how McCarrick amassed power despite written evidence about his sexual misconduct with teenage boys, seminarians and priests. (Chico Harlan, Michelle Boorstein and Sarah Pulliam Bailey)
  • The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season broke an all-time record for most named storms with 29. No previous season since reliable recordkeeping began nearly 170 years ago has seen this many named storms — and it is not over yet. (Jason Samenow, Andrew Freedman and Matthew Cappucci)
  • TikTok wants to know if Trump forgot about his plans to ban the company. The social media giant’s Chinese parent, ByteDance, is required to divest the company’s U.S. assets by tomorrow, but TikTok asked a federal appeals court in D.C. for a “review of actions” of the government committee that demanded the divestiture, saying it has provided no “substantive feedback” on a deal the company has proposed. (Rachel Lerman and Jeanne Whalen)

Social media speed read

The Georgia Republican congressional delegation, and the state GOP, signed letters claiming voting irregularities. They misspelled “Georgia:"

From a former Republican House Intelligence Committee chairman: 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Biden and Harris:

Videos of the day

During the 2016 and 2018 elections, some Fox News personalities were quick to dismiss Democratic election challenges. Now those same personalities are encouraging President Trump’s challenges:

Some Fox News personalities dismissed Democratic election challenges in 2016. Now those same personalities are encouraging President Trump's challenges. (Video: The Washington Post)

Stephen Colbert pointed out that Republicans are 0 for 10 in their election lawsuits – but that doesn’t seem to be stopping them from indulging the president: 

Trevor Noah took a look at the latest White House outbreak: